The second-to-last crew of the Russian space station Mir blasted off Thursday from the former Soviet cosmodrome in this Central Asian nation.

The Soyuz TM-28 ship is expected to dock with Mir on Saturday. It carries a three-man crew including former presidential adviser Yuri Baturin, flight commander Sergei Avdeyev and en-gin-eer Gennady Padalka.Like other Russian government organizations, its space agency has had cash problems so severe that earlier this summer officials were considering abandoning the Mir after the current crew returns home later this month.

The government has been slow to pay the $600 million it owes the Energiya company, which operates the space station, for Mir's operations last year, forcing Energiya to turn to commercial credits to finance Thursday's launch.

It was postponed for 10 days because cash problems prevented Russian space officials from paying electricity bills to local authorities. They responded by turning off power to the cosmodrome for two weeks, which delayed preparations for the launch.

Russian space officials felt uneasy about the Aug. 13 launch date because of superstitions about the number 13 and considered changing it. Eventually, they overcame their fears.

"After all, it doesn't fall on Friday," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Deputy Mission Control chief Viktor Blagov as saying.

Just in case, the crew meticulously followed numerous other rituals, including leaving autographs on the door of their hotel room and drinking a glass of champagne before the departure without toasting each other.